The Musical Sage that was Mjura

From the comprehensible age that allowed me to enjoy John Chilembwe play on Malawi Broadcasting Station (MBC) radio, to the time that I had to actually see the man behind the ‘complete’ musical compositions in the play, Mjura Mkandawire has always been a musical sage that has earned my expressly veneration.

It was however only somewhere around 1985 that I actually saw the man.

In those days, when teaching practice was exciting to both the learners and trainee teachers, a UTM bus used to bring a team of trainees to Namaka Primary School others call it Kachingwe in Chiradzulu along the Blantyre -Zomba road.

In my formative years, I had my breath taken away when the music trainee teacher really beat our teachers to a pulp when he taught us music.

It was one of the most exciting learning periods in my life that I still cherish as it remains so pronounced in the annals of my short history.

When the teachers are at such outposts, they are visited by tutors and luck fell on our laps when there appeared at Namaka, Mjura Mkandawire who had come to inspect how the learning teachers were carrying out their duty.

This is the time that I was introduced to Mjura Mkandawire who had that grandfather striking image, more so, having listened to a number of musical pieces that he had done for the play, with fascination that used to come with the play, seeing him brought even more enthralment.

At Gordon Memorial Hospital in Livingstonia, Thursday, 25 July 2013, becomes the red lettered day to the musical fraternity on the loss of a man who did it all for the local music industry.

The soils of Chihoro village, Livingstonia on Tuesday 30 July 2013, swallowed yet another talent it will be overwhelmed with.

Mjura’s journey which started on 17 September 1926 is so decorated that mourning it will be unfair because it needs to be celebrated musically or otherwise.

Dying just short of his 87th birthday, Mjura studied at Khondowe, before Blantyre Secondary School and later Adams College in South Africa.

As a teacher, he briefly taught at Nyamandlovu in Bulawayo and later Mhuju, before joining MBC in 1963.  

His children including Watipaso and Gomezgeka, the known musician that took after his father appreciate that God blessed their father with a long life and an unusual talent.

In Wati’s words; “He loved, lived and breathed music.”

Mjura was not only a producer at MBC but he also once managed the MBC Band and upon his retirement in 1981 he joined Blantyre Teachers College where as fate had it, I ended up crossing his path.

Upon retirement at the teachers college he joined Phwezi where he was teaching music and Bible Knowledge as he was getting closer to home in readiness of his retirement.

Even after retiring, and going to his Chihoro Village on the escarpments of Livingstonia, he continued to compose and write music.

Mjura was hired a number of times to write music for several institutions or groups including SADC.

As at accomplished music teacher, his failing eyes broke his heart as it meant he could not compose nor read music anymore and even after a couple of operations, his sight was never the same.

As his son says “everyday he fought hoping his eye sight would be restored just for the love of music.”

His son Wati says in his final days, he took great pride and enthusiasm and discussed at great length (or gave lectures) to any visitor who dared open his mouth and asked about music. He talked endlessly about music and his experiences during his work life in London at the BBC, Northern Ireland where he studied music and MBC where he worked most of his life.
Looking at condolence messages that flew all over the internet space last week, it is clear the loss is huge. This is not the sage that only taught music at MBC, the teachers college and Phwezi he also taught music at the choral workshop, Chancellor College.

Mjura had many compositions that have not been credited to him enough, but the world is not cheated with all levels of pretence as it has in its records the in-depth achievement that Mjura’s career chalked in the local and international musical chronicles.

As we celebrate the musical life of Mjura, the angels in heaven are all looking at the Malawian sage who is playing the harp to their amazement. May His Soul Rest in Peace.


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